Content Grab Bag: Seth Harp’s Biggest What Ifs
“We’re all in this together, right? That’s why Barrett Sports Media is creating a content grab bag and we’re asking everyone to pitch in.”
Good hosts and shows aren’t struggling for content right now, but who knows how long it will be before we get live sports again? Sure, the NFL Draft is coming up, but do you know what you’re going to do once the stories generated by that event have run their course? Hell, we’ll have been without sports for nearly a month and a half at that point.
We’re all in this together, right? That’s why Barrett Sports Media is creating a content grab bag and we’re asking everyone to pitch in.
Got an idea that can help someone else? Do you have a perfect bit in mind, but maybe your situation has changed and now you have nowhere to pull it off? Don’t let it go to waste! If you want to contribute, reach out to Demetri Ravanos on Twitter.
Our first contribution comes from Seth Harp, former program director and host at 97.3 the Game in Jacksonville, Florida. No NCAA Tournament, no Masters, and no anything else is going to lead to a lot of “what if” conversations. That was the inspiration for his contribution.
Exploring Sports What Ifs
by Seth Harp
What if? Two words that sports fans ask themselves as they search the depths of their grey matter for endless answers. Today Kansas and Dayton Basketball fans are asking the same question. Could Lakers and Bucks fans be asking themselves the same question in a few months?
Just this spring alone we could fill an entire archive. What if Tiger successfully defended his Masters Title? What if a Mid Major won the NCAA tournament? And to add a dark layer – What if sports continued to be played and we lost some major stars and personalities because of arrogance and greed? Thankfully we will never have to answer that last question.
As we enter a sports “No Man’s Land” I wanted to spend some time asking What if ? For the purpose of this exercise, I’ve set three criteria.
First we eliminated scenarios that involved players with chronic injuries. What if Grant Hill could’ve stayed healthy? What if Terrell Davis stayed healthy? Too much room for maneuverability.
Second, I eliminated trades and draft picks. What if Portland drafted Michael Jordan? What if the Charlotte Hornets didn’t trade Kobe Bryant? What if the Red Sox kept Babe Ruth? This would’ve turned into a Star Wars sports scenario. I just didn’t have the strength or patience for that!
Finally, I eliminated what I call “grandiose scenarios”. What if the AFL and NFL never merge? What if baseball eliminates segregation earlier or waits longer? The possibilities of these scenarios are too fantastical and the infinite far too great. Instead this exercise will be isolated to one time events and decisions – a single lynch pin that was pulled.
With that, here are my top 5 “what ifs” in sports history.
5. What if Kenyon Martin doesn’t break his leg during the 2000 NCAA tournament?
Kenyon Martin was the best college basketball player in the country for Cincinnati and Bob Huggins during the 2000 season. They spent 12 of 18 weeks ranked #1 back when that meant something. Martin won the Rupp Trophy, Wooden Award, Naismith Trophy, etc. You see where this is going.
Martin broke his leg against St. Louis in the Bearcats first game of the Conference USA tourney. They ended up losing to the Bilikins by 10. They had just beat St. Louis by 43 points in their regular season finale. The committee rewarded Huggins and Cincinnati for a great season and kept them as a #2 seed. They were able to beat UNC Wilmington in the opening round before falling to Tulsa in the second round. Michigan St would go on to beat Florida to win the national title a few weeks later. This remains Tom Izzo’s only title at Michigan St. Do he and the Spartans beat a healthy Martin and company?
A non-power conference team still hasn’t won a title since UNLV. An awkward landing 20 years ago would continue this streak into the third decade of this century. How much longer will that last? Dayton, Gonzaga and San Diego St would’ve loved to have taken that test.
4. What if Ted Williams didn’t miss 5 seasons of his career due to war?
Ted Williams may always remain the pinnacle of character on and off the field for sports figures, the George Washington of baseball. He did miss three full seasons (1943-45) and the better parts of (1952-53) as a fighter pilot. What would have Ted Williams career numbers have been if the World didn’t lose its collective in the middle of the 20th century?
I took the previous two years of Williams seasons and two years following each war for the most accurate assessment. Here is what I came up with. For the WWII he missed out on 182 hits per season. His home run average would’ve been 36 per season along with RBI 124. Add in the missed numbers during the Korean War shortened season he missed out on 219 base hits 44 more home runs and another 161 RBI.
Williams’s actual career stats: 2654 hits, 521 home runs, and 1839 RBI
His career stats if he played instead of going to war: 3419 hits, 673 home runs, and 2496 RBI
Williams would have ranked second only to Ruth in career Home Runs and would still hold MLB’s record for career RBI.
3. What if baseball doesn’t go on strike in 1994?
Trying to get a handle on everything that could’ve happened here is like trying to ride a rabid bull while you are drunk and blindfolded. When the 1994 baseball season stopped in August here are just a few things that were taking place.
- The Montreal Expos were 74-40 and had the best record in baseball. Moises Alou, Marquis Grissom, Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez and the list goes on. The Expos were loaded.
- The Yankees were 70-43 and were looking for bullpen help. They were interested in Cubs closer Randy Myers. The Cubs were said to want a skinny minor league shortstop by the name of Derek Jeter in return. With the strike looming the Yankees never really pursued it.
- Giants 3rd Baseman Matt Williams had 43 HR. This was a HUGE deal. Just 18 HRs away from Roger Maris. Before McGwire and Sosa’s Steroid surge, the single season HR was the sports Holy Grail. Williams’s pace put him at 59. What drama that would’ve been.
- Tony Gwynn was hitting .394 – Would Gwynn have been able to supplant Ted Williams as the last .400 hitter? Probably not. But it would have been a fun September.
2. What if Drew Brees picked the Dolphins instead of the Saints in 2006?
Brees will likely go over the 80,000 career passing yard threshold this season. If he stays ahead of Brady, it will be at least a decade before any other player even approaches his statistical level. If Drew Brees would have picked South Florida over the Big Easy back in 2006, Nick Saban likely stays and never leaves for Tuscaloosa. This has such a cascading effect it almost violates my fantastical rule I employed at the beginning of this piece.
Saban’s 5 titles and decade of dominance are in their own category. Here are just a few butterfly effect scenarios that play out if he stays with the Dolphins.
- Saints never win a Super Bowl
- Tommy Tubberville doesn’t lose job (Cam Newton probably doesn’t go to Auburn then)
- Urban Meyer Stays at Florida
- Tim Tebow wins a 3rd Title
- Les Miles and LSU win multiple National Titles
- College Football coaching salaries rise but don’t sore
- The Dolphins are actually competitive and relevant
- The Patriots dynasty looks a lot different with Brees in division
1. What if Baseball had PED testing in place during the mid 90’s?
Oh wow! Well, what does baseball look like today! Now we look back on the steroid era in baseball with the arrogance of first class passenger on the Titanic.
Here is what is likely different.
Roger Maris single season HR record of 61 still stands. Bonds (73), McGwire (70 and 65), and Sosa (66, 64, and 63) all go away.
Hank Aaron’s career HR record still stands. 755 still sits atop the mount. Today we would wonder if Albert Pujols would limp to the finish line for a crack at it. He would likely need around 4 healthy seasons to do it.
Bond’s adjusted career line would be 585 home runs and 1700 RBI. That give him a Reggie Jackson statistical career and is probably good enough to make him a first ballot Hall of Famer.
Roger Clemens doesn’t win 4 more Cy Young awards. Clemons won over 162 games after leaving the Red Sox to join the Blue Jays following the 1997 season. He finished his career with 354 wins. Does he even get to 275 let alone 300 without some juice?
Baseball would have an almost entirely different history. The question is would we have consumed it?
What are your greatest sports what ifs? What are your listeners’? Come with a few theories on how things unfold in your alternate history and watch the reactions and willingness to play along explode!
Is There Still a Place for Baseball Talk on National Sports Shows?
“Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.”
Last week at the BSM Summit, I hosted a panel focused on air checks. I wish I could say we covered the topic thoroughly, but we got derailed a lot, and you know what? That is okay. It felt like real air checks that I have been on both sides of in my career.
Rob Parker of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio was the talent. He heard thoughts on his show from his boss, Scott Shapiro, and from his former boss, legendary WFAN programmer Mark Chernoff.
Baseball was the topic that caused one of our derailments on the panel. If you know Rob, you know he is passionate about Major League Baseball. He cited download numbers that show The Odd Couple’s time-shifted audience responds to baseball talk. To him, that proves there is not just room for it on nationally syndicated shows, but that there is a sizable audience that wants it.
Chernoff disagrees. He says baseball is a regional sport. Sure, there are regions that love it and local sports talk stations will dedicate full hours to discussing their home team’s games and roster. National shows need to cast a wide net though, and baseball doesn’t do that.
Personally, I agree with Chernoff. I told Parker on stage that “I hear baseball talk and I am f***ing gone.” The reason for that, I think, is exactly what Chernoff said. I grew up in Alabama (no baseball team). I live in North Carolina (no baseball team). Where baseball is big, it is huge, but it isn’t big in most of the country.
Now, I will add this. I used to LOVE baseball. It is the sport I played in high school. The Yankees’ logo was on the groom’s cake at my wedding. Then I had kids.
Forget 162 games. Even five games didn’t fit into my lifestyle. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still have feelings for the sport, but they are buried by years of neglect and active shunning.
Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.
Me, and millions of sports talk listeners like me, look at baseball like a toddler looks at broccoli. You probably aren’t lying when you tell us how much you love it, but damn it! WE WANT CHICKEN FINGERS!
A new Major League Baseball season starts Thursday and I thought this topic was worth exploring. I asked three nationally syndicated hosts to weigh in. When is baseball right for their show and how do they use those conversations? Here is what they had to say.
FREDDIE COLEMAN (Freddie & Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio) – “MLB can still be talked nationally IF there’s that one player like Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani can attract the casual fan. MLB has definitely become more local because of the absence of that SUPER player and/or villainous team. I wonder if the pace of play will help bring in the younger fans that they need, but the sport NEEDS that defining star that is must-see TV.”
JONAS KNOX (2 Pros & a Cup of Joe on FOX Sports Radio) – “While football is king for me in sports radio, I look at baseball like most other sports. I’m not opposed to talking about it, as long as I have an angle or opinion that I am confident I can deliver in an entertaining manner. A couple of times of any given year, there are stories in baseball that are big picture topics that are obvious national discussions.
“I think it’s my job to never close the door on any topic/discussion (except politics because I don’t know anything about it).
“But also, if I’m going to discuss a localized story in baseball or any other sport for that matter – I better have an entertaining/informed angle on it. Otherwise, I’ve let down the listener and that is unacceptable. If they give you their time, you better not waste it.”
MAGGIE GRAY (Maggie & Perloff on CBS Sports Radio) – “While I was on WFAN there was almost no amount of minutia that was too small when it came to the Mets and Yankees. On Maggie and Perloff, our baseball topics have to be more centered around issues that can be universal. For example, ’Is Shohei Ohtani the face of the sport? Is Ohtani pitching and hitting more impressive than two sport athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? Do you consider Aaron Judge the single-season homerun king or Barry Bonds?’ Any baseball fan or sports fan can have an opinion about those topics, so we find they get great engagement from our audience.”
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Who Can Sports Fans Trust Once Twitter Ditches Legacy Verified Blue Checks?
The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
As of April 1, Twitter will finally make a dreaded change that many will view as an April Fools’ prank. Unfortunately, it won’t be a joke to any user who cares about legitimacy and truth.
Last week, Twitter officially announced that verified blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that have not signed up for a Twitter Blue subscription. Previously, accounts whose identity had been verified were allowed to keep their blue checks when Twitter Blue was implemented.
But shortly after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and became the social media company’s CEO, he stated his intention to use verification as a revenue source. Users would have to pay $8 per month (or $84 annually) for a Twitter Blue subscription and blue checkmark verification. Paying for blue checks immediately set off red flags among users who learned to depend on verified accounts for accredited identities and trusted information.
The entire concept of verification and blue checks was simple and effective. Users and accounts bearing the blue checkmark were legitimate. These people and organizations were who they said they were.
As an example, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has faced criticism for how he framed domestic violence and sexual misconduct involving star NFL players, and deservedly so. But fans and media know Schefter’s tweets are really coming from him because his account is verified.
Furthermore, Twitter took the additional step of clarifying that accounts such as Schefter’s were verified before Twitter Blue was implemented. He didn’t pay eight dollars for that blue checkmark.
The need for verification is never more vital than when fake accounts are created to deceive users. Such accounts will put “Adam Schefter” as their Twitter name, even if their handle is something like “@TuaNeedsHelp.” Or worse, some fake accounts will create a handle with letters that look similar. So “@AdarnSchefter” with an “rn” in place of the “m,” fools some people, especially at a quick glance when people are trying to push news out as fast as possible.
Plenty of baseball fans have been duped over the years by fake accounts using a zero instead of an “o” or a capital “I” instead of a lowercase “l” to resemble Fox Sports and The Athletic reporter Ken Rosenthal. That trick didn’t get me. But when I covered Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report 10 years ago, I did fall for a fake Jim Salisbury account that reported the Philadelphia Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. Capital “I,” not lowercase “l” in “Salisbury.” Pence was, in fact, traded to the Giants two days later, but that didn’t make my goof any less embarrassing. I should’ve looked for the blue checkmark!
But after April 1, that signifier won’t matter. Legacy blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that haven’t paid for Twitter Blue. Some accounts that were previously verified might purchase a subscription to maintain that blue check. But those that were deemed legitimate prior to Musk taking over Twitter likely won’t. (There are also rumors that Twitter is considering a feature that would allow Twitter Blue subscribers to hide their blue check and avoid revealing that purchase.)
That could be even more true for media organizations, which are being told to pay $1000 per month for verification. Do you think ESPN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post will pay $12,000 for a blue check?
We’ve already seen the problems that paying for verification can cause. Shortly after Twitter Blue launched, accounts pretending to be legacy verified users could be created. A fake Adam Schefter account tweeted that the Las Vegas Raiders had fired head coach Josh McDaniels. Users who saw the “Adam Schefter” Twitter name went with the news without looking more closely at the “@AdamSchefterNOT” handle. But there was a blue checkmark next to the name this time!
The same thing occurred with a fake LeBron James account tweeting that the NBA superstar had requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a “@KINGJamez” handle, but a “LeBron James” Twitter name with a blue check next to it.
Whether it’s because fans and media have become more discerning or Twitter has done good work cracking down on such fake accounts, there haven’t been many outrageous examples of deliberate deception since last November. But the potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
If that seems like an overstatement, it’s a very real possibility that there will be an erosion of trust among Twitter users. Media and fans may have to take a breath before quickly tweeting and retweeting news from accounts that may or may not be credible. False news and phony statements could spread quickly and go viral across social media.
Even worse, Musk has announced that only verified Twitter Blue accounts will be seen in your “For You” timeline as of April 15. (He can’t claim it’s an April Fools’ Day joke on that date.)
Obviously, that carries far more serious real-world implications beyond sports. Forget about a fake Shams Charania account tweeting that Luka Dončić wants to be traded to the Lakers. It’s not difficult to imagine a fake Joe Biden account declaring war on Russia and some people believing it’s true because of the blue checkmark.
We may be nearing the end of Twitter being a reliable news-gathering tool. If the accounts tweeting out news can’t be trusted, where’s the value? Reporters and newsmakers may end up going to other social media platforms to break stories and carry the viability of verification.
When Fox Sports’ website infamously pivoted to video in 2017, Ken Rosenthal posted his MLB reporting on Facebook prior to joining The Athletic. Hello, Instagram. Will someone take their following and reputation to a fledgling platform like Mastodon, Post, Spoutible, or BlueSky, even if it means a lesser outlet?
If and when that happens, Twitter could still be a community but not nearly as much fun. Not when it becomes a matter of trust that breaks up the party.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.
There’s a Lesson For Us All in Florida Atlantic’s Elite 8 Broadcast Struggle
“It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.”
Ken LaVicka and Kevin Harlan probably don’t have a ton in common. Both of them were announcing an Elite Eight game over the weekend, that is one thing tying them together, but their experiences were wildly different. Harlan is on CBS with a production crew numbering in the dozens making certain all goes smoothly. LaVicka, the voice of the Florida Atlantic Owls, is a production crew himself, making certain those listening in South Florida heard the Owls punch their Final Four ticket. At least, that was LaVicka’s plan.
The Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Men’s Final Four. Even while typing that sentence, it still seems odd to say. Do you know how many college basketball teams are thinking “how can Florida Atlantic make the Final Four and we can’t?” These are the types of stories that make the NCAA Tournament what it is. There is, literally, no barrier stopping any team from this tournament going on the run of their life and making it all the way.
Everyone listening in South Florida almost missed the moment it all became real for the Owls. With :18.6 to go in Florida Atlantic’s Elite Eight game against Kansas State, the Madison Square Garden Ethernet service to the front row of media seating went completely dark.
It was on that row that Ken LaVicka was painting the picture back to South Florida. Well, he was until the internet died on him.
Nobody does a single show away from their home studio anymore without trying to avoid the nightmare of Ethernet failure. Gone are the days of phone lines and ISDN connections, all the audio and video is now sent back to the studio over the technological miracle that is the internet. It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.
Take that anxiety and multiply it by 1,000 when that Ethernet line is connected to a Comrex unit for the most important moment of your career. LaVicka had the great fortune of a Kansas State timeout to try something, anything, to save the day. In his quick thinking, he spun around and grabbed an ethernet cable from row two which, as it turns out, still had internet access flowing through it’s cables. That cable, though, was the equivalent of an iPhone charging cord; never as long as you need it to be.
One of LaVicka’s co-workers from ESPN West Palm held the Comrex unit close enough to the second row for the cable to make a connection and the day was saved. LaVicka was able to call the last :15 of the Florida Atlantic win and, presumably, get in all the necessary sponsorship mentions.
It was an exciting end to the FAU v. Kansas State game, a great defensive stop by the Owls to seal the victory. LaVicka told the NCAA’s Andy Katz he tried to channel his inner Jim Nantz to relay that excitement. The NCAA Tournament excitement started early this year. In the very first TV window 13 Seed Furman upset 4 Seed Virginia with a late three pointer by JP Pegues, who had been 0-for-15 from beyond the arc leading up to that shot. It is the type of play the NCAA Tournament is built upon.
It was called in the manner Kevin Harlan’s career was built upon. Harlan, alongside Stan Van Gundy and Dan Bonner, called the Virginia turnover leading to the made Furman basket with his trademark excitement before laying out for the crowd reaction. After a few seconds of crowd excitement he asked his analysts, and the world, “Did we just see what I think we saw? Wow!” Vintage Kevin Harlan.
One reason we are so aware of what Harlan said, and that he signaled his analysts to lay out for the crowd reaction, was a CBS Sports tweet with video of Harlan, Van Gundy and Bonner in a split screen over the play. It gave us a rare look at a pro in the middle of his craft. We got to see that Harlan reacts just like he sounds. The video has more than six million views and has been retweeted more than 6,000 times, a lot of people seem to like it.
Kevin Harlan is not in that group. Harlan appeared on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast after the video went public and said he was embarrassed by it. Harlan added he “begged” CBS not send the tweet out but to no avail. Harlan told Deitsch “I don’t know that I’m glad that they caught our expression, but I’m glad the game was on the air. I think I join a chorus of other announcers who do not like the camera.”
There’s a valuable announcer lesson from Harlan there; the audience is almost always there for the game, not you. Harlan went on to describe the broadcast booth to Deitsch as somewhat of a sacred place. He would prefer to let his words accompany the video of the action to tell the story. Kevin Harlan is as good as they come at his craft, if he thinks that way, there’s probably great value in that line of thought.
We can learn from LaVicka, as well. You work in this business long enough and you come to accept technical difficulties are as much a part of it as anything. They always seem to strike at the worst times, it is just in their nature. Those who can find a way to deal with them without everything melting down are those who can give their audience what they showed up for. Those who lose their mind and spend time complaining about them during the production simply give the audience information they don’t really care about.
The Final Four is an unlikely collection of teams; Miami, San Diego State, Connecticut and Florida Atlantic. You all had that in your brackets, right? Yep, the Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Final Four and Ken LaVicka will be there for it. Now, if the internet will just hold out.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.